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2015 Pistons preview: Joel Anthony, security blanket

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Joel Anthony returns as aging but reliable third center.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The names in front of him on the depth chart are about the only thing different for Joel Anthony this season. Outside of that, it's a return to stability for one of the few veterans on the roster without the journeyman status.

Stan Van Gundy was vocal about his desire to re-sign Anthony at the end of last season, who proved to be effective in a pinch and a great locker room presence. But it was unclear where he fit in with the impending departure of Greg Monroe. There's a big difference in mopping up minutes left over after Andre Drummond and Monroe, occasionally filling in when one is unavailable, and serving as the primary backup center.

2014-15 Year in Review

Joel Anthony was plan B. Less than two months after signing Aaron Gray to a two-year deal to serve as the backup center behind Drummond and Monroe, Gray suffered a cardiac episode in late August.

The episode was serious enough that Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower needed to explore alternatives. With new additions in D.J. Augustin and Spencer Dinwiddie providing the team with sufficient depth at point guard, Will Bynum, who was on the final year of his contract, was an odd man out.

Joel Anthony was in a similar spot with the Boston Celtics, playing behind a full frontcourt in Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, and Brandon Bass. After a Anthony for Bynum swap, the Pistons had their veteran third string center.

On the surface, there wasn't much use for Anthony considering all of the size in the Pistons frontcourt. He only played more than 20 minutes four times all season, only hit double digits in minutes in 15 games.

But what made Anthony so valuable was that he was always reliable when he was needed. Whether it was filling in for Greg Monroe in his early season suspension, in the aftermath of the Josh Smith waiving, or taking a more significant role late in the season when Monroe sat out a few weeks with a sore knee, Anthony was ready and effective when Van Gundy called his number.

When he hit the court, Anthony was arguably the most effective defensive player for the Pistons. He led the team in defensive rating and blocked shot percentage with an outstanding 9.5 percent. Anthony was a long way in minutes from qualifying for the leaderboard, but if he would have easily led the league over Rudy Gobert's 7 percent - of course, assuming Anthony could maintain that rate.

Though Anthony is not an offensive threat, averaging only 5.4 points per 36 minutes for his career, he was extremely efficient for the Pistons with the vast majority of his buckets coming on tips and the pick-and-roll. The fact that he thrived on these makes him particularly well suited to be backing up Drummond, the best in the league in those two facets of the game.

2015-16 Projected Production

As Greg Monroe moved on from the Pistons and was replaced with Ersan Ilyasova, it took away a bit of luxury for Van Gundy in terms of roster flexibility. Among the options at power forward, Ilyasova, Anthony Tolliver, and Marcus Morris, none were particularly suited to spend time at center the way Moose could.

Which made following Anthony's free agency quite interesting. It was unlikely Anthony would leave Detroit, but how would he fit in? Would Anthony be the primary backup with another veteran third stringer like last year? Share the backup job with a youngster?

Personally, I expected the latter. Get a young guy like Jeff Withey on the cheap, let them split the 1,300 minutes left behind Andre Drummond. But there's risk involved there if Drummond misses any time this season and, with next year's salary cap ready to explode, little reason to go cheap.

So Van Gundy signed Aron Baynes to a blockbuster-ish deal at $20 million to serve as one of the higher priced backup centers in the league. Anthony would once again serve as the emergency third stringer.

Anthony only played 406 minutes last season, but he may be in for even fewer this season. Hopefully Drummond will eventually get his fouls and free throw shooting under control enough to play more than the 30 minutes per game he had last season. And Van Gundy has talked up Baynes to be in line for more than the 16 minutes per game he played for the San Antonio Spurs last season, possibly shifting to power forward at times.

That doesn't leave a whole lot for Anthony.

In all likelihood, Anthony will be the last man off the bench for the Pistons. Van Gundy will probably try to get him into the games at least 30 or so games, just to give him a chance to stretch his legs.

But his biggest impact will be on the practice floor providing another big body to match up with Drummond, in the locker room as a veteran presence for the young team, and a reliable defensive presence just in case he's needed.

Prediction

30 games, 9 minutes per game, 2 points, 2 rebounds, .8 blocks